JACK ROSS was in Philadelphia recently when he was accosted by a stranger who recognised him. Thankfully, it was an Icelandic chap who was a fan of ‘Sunderland ‘til I Die’, rather than a Dundonian fan of United.

Not that Ross feels he couldn’t look any Dundee United supporter in the eye and assure them he had given his all at Tannadice, despite the way his 72-day reign ultimately – and catastrophically – unravelled.

Just as with the experience of starring in a smash-hit reality TV show as he was simultaneously trying to haul a huge club out of its slumber though, his short-lived attempt at restoring United to somewhere near the top of the Scottish game is something he is not entirely keen to relive.

“I would be driving home at night with a camera crew in the car; a cameraman in the front, one in the back and a sound guy,” Ross says. “It was nuts.”

There were just 20 days between arguably the greatest night Tannadice has seen in three decades or more, as United defeated AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of their UEFA Conference League qualifier in early August, and the astonishing 9-0 reverse to Celtic that ultimately cost him his job. With a 7-0 loss in the second leg in Alkmaar sandwiched between, for good measure. That remarkable sequence of events is, then, the obvious place to start.

So, at the risk of attracting the ire once reserved for the cameraman in his passenger seat, I gently enquire just how it all went so wrong, so quickly?

“I don’t know, to be honest,” he says. “It’s not a brilliant answer, I know. I’ve obviously thought a lot about it.

“In truth, did I do anything differently at that club than I had done at previous clubs? No, I didn’t.

“If there was something glaringly obvious to me…there are things I will always keep to myself that may have been factors, and there would have been fault on all sides.

“But the truth is, I don’t know. It’s a headscratcher for me in terms of the extent of the results and performances. Ultimately, it’s me that has to own that, and I don’t think I’ve shied away from saying that publicly.

“That responsibility always falls upon you as a manager.”

Which begs the question; should it really, though? The appalling efforts of his United players to keep Celtic out, some might argue, amount to a dereliction of their professional duty. See also Aberdeen’s recent 6-0 thrashing at Hibernian that cost Jim Goodwin his position.

Ross’s pointed line about there being fault on all sides for what happened during his time at Tannadice may be read into any number of ways. United fans certainly lay plenty of blame at the feet of sporting director Tony Ahsgar for their current predicament, even if Ross may not.

Despite some improvement under new manager Liam Fox, United’s expensively assembled squad are still languishing at the foot of the Premiership, after all. Supporters held a banner calling for the removal of Ahsgar in the weekend defeat at Tynecastle, unhappy with the club’s January transfer business.

Ross doesn’t accept the invitation to expand upon the role of anyone else in his Tannadice failure though, examining only his own role in what transpired.

“How I look at the job is that it is my duty to get the best out of my players, whether that’s ability wise, attitude wise or whatever,” he says.

“I have to get that buy-in from them consistently, through good times and bad.

“I was very much a players’ manager, maybe to a fault at times. I’ve always carried responsibility publicly and internally too. I’ve always felt as if any win or success was a consequence of my players or staff, while any defeat or bad performance was down to me.

“That’s maybe not healthy and not entirely accurate, but it’s just the way I’m built to do the job.

“Other people within the game know that there are times when the responsibility lies with the players, because they are the ones going onto the field. But as a manager, it is your job to get the best out of them.

“When you suffer a heavy defeat, the soreness on your own personal and professional pride is huge, irrespective of what other people might think.”

Ross couldn’t help but be hurt by those results and his resultant sacking. The 46-year-old has a thick skin, but with that bruising experience in mind and the personal abuse that is baked into the job, it is perhaps no surprise to hear that he is assessing his future career options with an open mind.

Ross is studying for an MSc in Sports Directorship, and admits that he is just as receptive to considering a future ‘upstairs’ in football as he is to a return to the dugout.

“I do think that in the current climate it is very, very hard to be perceived as being successful,” he says.

“The bar by which you are judged as being successful is not always set within realism.

“I know what public opinion is like, if you rail against any aspect of the job, you get very little sympathy. Which I don’t think is entirely right.

“I think we accept the challenge of the job and the bits that are tough, because people have tough jobs all over the place, but I do think that the dehumanising aspect of it is not right, because that does happen.

“The way in which things sometimes happen in football I don’t think would be replicated in other walks of life.

“Does it put the endless number of people who want to do the job off? No, because every single one believes they are destined to be the next Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola.

“For a long time these things have just been accepted as part of the role, but society has evolved so much in that respect.

“I would never say that as a manager you shouldn’t get stick or criticism or ever feel under pressure, because I do think that if you don’t want that, then you don’t do that job.

“There is however a line that is often crossed, and it does become inappropriate. We haven’t got a handle on that.

“I’m really just very open-minded about what I do next. I miss working every single day. The Masters course keeps me busy, and I’ve still been doing coach ed, which I enjoy.

“So, things have been good for me in terms of exploring different avenues. I’m not fixated on a return to management.

“From an experience point of view, would I be of assistance to a club in terms of helping a manager? I think I would, yeah. I’ve been through a lot, both good and bad.”

Ain’t that the truth. Ross considers the question of whether the slow evolution of the sporting director role in Scotland should mean a similar apportioning of blame when things hit the fan.

“I think what you find is that a lot of people want to own the successes when things are going well, but very few people want to own the failures,” he says.

“I think it’s accepted that the traditional aspect of being a manager where you are in charge of everything is changing, which I think is sensible, but the accountability and responsibility remains the same.

“If you go down the path of this evolution of greater shared decision making, then it should only be right that some of the responsibility is shared as well.”

Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan, and all that.

Perception is also an issue for managers who have been sacked, not least in the media, where labels like ‘flop’ can follow a man around. Again, Ross accepts such things come with the territory, but takes issue when a line is crossed.

“Headlines will also talk about pressure and jobs under threat, and I get that,” he says.

“The only thing I get frustrated with is inaccuracies. I read something that at Hibs, I failed. That I had a reputation for failing in semi-finals. Well, I was only in four and I won two, so it depends on the way you look at it, doesn’t it?

“I’ve heard a lot recently about Hibs being in turmoil for the past so many years, but that’s not true either. We had the highest finish in 17 years, and including the end of Paul [Heckingbottom]’s time, the beginning of Shaun [Maloney]’s with me sandwiched in between, we got to six semi-finals and two finals, so that’s not turmoil.

“That’s the only time I rail against it, when I just think ‘well, that’s not accurate’. But in terms of how people want to rate me as a manager, then that doesn’t bother me. I know what I’ve done, what I’ve dealt with, and how I’ve performed.

“With the exception of the last job, I’m alright. The last one, I have no qualms with people saying it wasn’t very good, because it wasn’t. The other ones, I’m ok with the job I did.”

So, a return to the dugout is still possible at some stage. A move upstairs just as likely too. A return to the small screen though? Perhaps not.

“I just wanted to be successful at Sunderland and I didn’t want any distractions or anything that might affect that,” he says.

“Now, that’s not to say that’s the reason why we didn’t get promoted, because it’s not. You don’t want people to think that, but it was…different.

“I still haven’t watched it properly. The guys who produced it were good people and it did really well, but I’m not sure I would ever like to go through that again.

“I quite often forget about it, but then incidents like the one in Philadelphia happen, and they are always quite complimentary. So that’s quite nice.”

Which isn’t always the case when you’re in the dugout.